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Speed matters in industry contracting and early, frequent discussions are critical

Excerpted from the August 2023 issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. UIDP members can view the entire issue here.

There’s an old ‘saw’ that goes something like this: “You can’t expect me to be at the landing if I wasn’t there for the lift-off.” While that may be a bit of over-simplification when applied to the contracting process, industry engagement experts agree that early discussions between partners can go a long way towards improving efficiency and reaching the ‘goal line’ more rapidly — and leaving both partners more satisfied with the results.

“Get internal and external parties together, and discuss what you’re trying to achieve,” advises Terry Adams, IP marketing specialist with Howard University.

“It’s about setting expectations, and understanding how both parties work,” adds Keisha Demps, interim director of partnerships with NC State. “Even before any legal gets involved you generally know how your group works internally.”

Michelle Toth, external collaboration manager with Dow, says the one thing she starts with — and that she advises for both universities and industry partners — is the need to have alignment internally before you go externally. “If you don’t, that’s where there can be some big delays,” she observes. For industry specifically, she adds, it’s important to determine if technical leadership has been involved, and if they are supportive of the work.

“We like to bring in attorneys early as well,” she continues. “Lastly, contract administration; we want to be involved very early. Then, you do not have to worry about internal barriers.”

“A lot of it is being communication-based from the very start about the project,” notes Clinton D Campbell, MA, CRA, manager of research administration, Office of Post-Award Management/Research and Engagement at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “Largely, that’s each side understanding where the other is coming from.”

Dennis Fortner, who recently retired as director of corporate relations at Carnegie Mellon University, adds that having the right people engaged is also critical to improved efficiency. That means, he explains, “people who are as interested in getting the deal done — on both sides — as they are in the language they are trying to negotiate — people who are motivated enough and have the ability to negotiate, whether it’s a one-off or a master agreement.”

Excerpted from the August 2023 issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. UIDP members can access the complete article and the entire issue here. Other practitioners may subscribe to receive the UIEA newsletter at